It had been a rough day at the Smith household. Marlene had discovered Nate’s hidden stash of candy and devoured his biggest Snickers bar. In response, Nate pushed her out of his room, slammed the door behind her, and refused to talk to her for the rest of the day. Mrs. Smith decided to intervene and told Nate the story of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. But Nate feels manipulated by the story: it feels like his mom could get the idea of not feeding him any more meals until he forgives his sister for eating the candy. Will God and his parents decide not to love Nate anymore until he changes his attitude?
Sunday’s lesson is on forgiveness – the need for it, the motivation for doing it, and the process of carrying it out. We’ll be talking about forgiving other people who have wronged us, but as Christians, we can’t separate human forgiveness – healing in horizontal relationships with those around us – from God’s forgiveness, which brings healing to our fractured relationship with Him. Our first consideration should be the debt that we have been forgiven by God, through the work and intercession of Christ. Remember the man mentioned in Sunday School several weeks ago who didn’t like the idea of Christ atoning for his sins? He’s a little bit like the unforgiving servant in that he doesn’t grasp the weight of his sin. Like the servant’s debt of ten thousand talents, our sin is a wrong against God that we can never work hard enough to repay. But rather than lead us to despair, this should cause us to marvel at the fact that God offers forgiveness through Christ to anyone – anyone – who humbly asks for it. How should this motivate us to forgive others?
What if we don’t have the right motivations for forgiveness? Suppose that we begrudgingly choose to forgive someone only because of this story in Matthew 18 or other similar statements in the Bible. We do it not because we want to, but because we should. Does our forgiveness in that scenario mean anything? Maybe, like Nate, we feel that God is wielding His forgiveness of us as a threat – He will take it away unless we do the right thing and forgive. Should we ever feel this way, and how is that maybe a wrong approach to this story?
Can you forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness and doesn’t seem to be sorry for what they’ve done? Notice that Jesus doesn’t say anything about the offending party asking for forgiveness in the scenario Peter presents in Matthew 18:21-22! Finally, what is attractive about a community that both asks for and extends forgiveness to one another, and how can we work to become such a community? All this and more, Sunday at Shalom!